Perhaps the ultimate example of “mansplaining” can be found on Twitter: a man tried to explain the difference between a “vulva” and a “vagina,” arguing with a woman who is a gynecologist. To be fair, the man was defending what he perceived to be the more common term for female genitalia. Also to be fair, he was wrong.
Media coverage of female politicians often uses sexist language, and tends to focus more on family roles, appearance, and perceived “women’s political issues” when covering female politicians. Women routinely face questions that male candidates nearly never encounter, like being asked to smile or to answer questions about work-life balance. Female politicians have been stereotyped in the media as “ice queens” or “grandmas,” and have been historically categorized into one of four roles: seductress, mother, pet, or battle-ax.
Reporting in Japan involves long hours spent socializing with mostly male sources. Beating rivals to the punch in a system built on access journalism involves cultivating sources, who may not be above using information as bait for sexual favors. A survey this year found that a third of the perpetrators of sexual harassment against female reporters are police officers, politicians, or government officials.
The tendency to publish the same bylines and quote the same sources repeatedly is partly driven by the pressure on today’s media to produce more content with fewer resources. When breaking news hits, daily beat journalists eager for sources reach out to the first people they can find working on and influencing any given issue, not the experts working outside the nerve center or think tank world. This gives men, who dominate the top spots in think tanks, the Pentagon, the State Department, National Security Council, and White House an advantage. This also leads to a self-reinforcing cycle: the more you are heard, the more influential you become.
“The class-based assumptions in the writing are staggering,” I wrote. “From A1 lede: ‘Buying a Kate Spade bag was a coming-of-age ritual for a generation of Americans.’” What about those of us, like me, who grew up wearing a mix of clothes from Sears and JC Penny, secondhand garb, and outfits my mother sewed; and then, in college and after, continued to shop at vintage and discount stores?
Over the past 18 months, at least 15 women have come out publicly with allegations of sexual harassment at Fox spanning decades. Of them, just one has landed a job in TV news, and at least five have failed to find any full-time employment. None of the women who filed sexual harassment claims against Fox have found jobs in news. Most haven’t been seen in the media in years.
Abuse can also manifest itself in invisible ways: In the stories that have gone untold or unexplored by women because the risks of telling them, psychologically or physically, require too damn much. Most editors don’t understand the extent of the abuse—why would they? They don’t read our inboxes or track our direct messages, they can’t assess our fear as the responses mount, weighing the validity of each threat alongside the daily back-and-forth of reporting. Depending on their own identity, they don’t know the complex matrix of decisions women make in the field to render themselves less threatening, or the thought put into how and who to block, report, or ignore online.
French female journalists’ demands for equality aren’t new—they recall a similar complaint levied against management at financial newspaper Les Echos in 2013. But unlike this wave of action, that protest didn’t metastasize across French media. “You have three newsrooms in a short space of time. That’s quite uncommon,” says Aude Lorriaux, a freelance journalist and spokeswoman for “Prenons La Une,” a collective of French female journalists campaigning for equality in the media. “It shows [women in newsrooms] have the confidence….to verbalize what they’ve known all along.”